Wolf hunt begins

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Wyoming’s first regulated wolf hunt started Monday, and challenges from environmental groups are not expected to stop it this year.

Two gray wolves had reportedly been killed in Wyoming’s trophy zones as of late Monday afternoon. One was killed in the Sunlight area, and the other in the Pacific Creek area, said Eric Keszler, a Game and Fish spokesman in Cheyenne.

By Friday, 2,236 wolf licenses had been sold in Wyoming, all but 53 of them to state residents.

With 562 licenses purchased, “Park County was still No. 1,” said Keszler.

Hunting will be allowed from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 in the northwest corner of the state, except in area 12, which is a seasonal trophy game management area in northern Lincoln and Sublette counties from Oct. 15 to Dec. 31.

Wyoming has a total quota of 52 wolves across all 12 trophy game hunt areas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month it would entrust Wyoming with managing wolf numbers. The service has endorsed Wyoming’s wolf-management plan, which allows for wolves to be shot on sight in most of the state, while keeping them permanently protected in designated areas such as Yellowstone National Park.

Gov. Matt Mead has called the hunt “scientifically sound.”

Although two environmental groups intend to sue over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to delist wolves in Wyoming, it is unlikely they will stop wolf hunting in Wyoming, at least this year. Both Earthjustice and WildEarth Guardians sent intent-to-sue notices last month.

Even so, a local official said he believes environmental groups pushing for wolf re-listing in Wyoming don’t have a legal leg to stand on.

They must wait 60 days after notification before they can file the lawsuit in federal court. At this time, Earthjustice’s clients have not asked the firm to file a preliminary injunction to discontinue hunting in Wyoming, said Jenny Harbine, an Earthjustice attorney.

Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, Harbine said.

The Endangered Species Act requires a species to be biologically recovered and have adequate protections in place before delisting to ensure it is not driven to the brink of extinction, Harbine said.

“We believe Wyoming’s wolf management scheme is insignificant to protect the Wyoming wolf population from excessive human mortality,” Harbine said.

In both the trophy and predator zones, ranchers now can kill wolves they believe are threatening their livestock or domestic animals. It appears a loophole in state statute would allow those ranchers to put out bait to attract wolves, and that could lead to the killing of a significant number of wolves, Harbine said.

Wyoming’s landscape is more open than Idaho to aid hunters, but it is similar to southwest Montana, and Montana didn’t meet its wolf harvest quota last year.

“I think wolves are going to be harder to hunt than may be anticipated by some,” said Mark Bruscino, statewide supervisor of the large carnivore management section for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Cody.

No matter how liberal the judge, Joe Tilden said he can’t imagine a jurist granting an injunction. Tilden has been an outfitter for 24 years, president of the Wyoming chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife for eight years and a Park County commissioner for two years.

In August 2010, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy put wolves back on the list because he said wolves represented a distinct population segment in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming so they could not remain listed in Wyoming while being delisted in Idaho and Montana.

In November 2010, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson’s ruling that Wyoming’s dual status plan was valid with a little adjusting to guarantee genetic connectivity was upheld. To allow that genetic connectivity, the state created the flex zone to link wolves in Lincoln and Sublette counties with Idaho wolves, Tilden said.

As long as Wyoming can prove genetic diversity through DNA tests, Tilden said he believes Wyoming wolves will remain off the Endangered Species list.

Wyoming will do everything it can to maintain a minimum population and even a buffer population to keep the canines off the list and prevent any injunctions, Tilden said. “I really don’t know what grounds they can sue on,” Tilden said.

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